ISLAND IN THE SKY, Balamban, Cebu
A Short Drive Up The Mountains
The Cebu Province isn’t only unmatched in its pristine beaches & scattered island paradises but is also blessed with breathtaking mountains for the curious traveler who loves diversity.
Once in a while, Jake & I take his 1970’s VW Beetle up on spins on the strangest terrain. It is an obvious prototype of Lindsay Lohan’s Herbie but he insists on naming her… wait for it… VolksMegan. If Megan could talk she’d be spewing expletives from all those times we forced her to go through things no retro car should be caught enduring.
Belle: How far is it?
Jake: Roughly 50 km from the main city.
Belle: My inclination towards the right-brain refuses to accept distance in kilometers in gauging closeness.
Jake: *Yawn* You are such a girl. About 30mins.
Your first time?
A short trip up the slopes beginning from Nivel Hills, Lahug all the way to Busay then finally reaching Gaas, Balamban via the Transcentral Highway will get you to the mountain resort situated just right by the main road. No need to keep your eyelids held up with toothpicks as it’s quite easy to spot.
If you’ve got no private vehicle, there are a number of V-Hires & habal2x drivers willing to take you there. We aren’t very sure about the fare so just be prepared to cash out a maximum of P50/head.
Traveler’s Tip #1: Hitchhiking? Goodluck. It’s not that easy in this part of the world no matter how much ‘Gas, Gr*ss or A*s’ you might have there.
Traveler’s Tip #2: The Transcentral Highway is fairly safe but it all depends on the care you take when driving there.
a. Check your breaks before heading out.
b. Don’t be in a hurry. Never overtake.
c. Watch out for sharp curves & sudden down slopes.
d. If you’re drunk or going to get drunk, FORGET IT.
I’m one to talk. I’m not even allowed to drive. But it never hurts to have these drilled in your head once in a while.
On a side note: We’d like to give a heads up to Adventure Café which opened not too long ago just nearby Island In The Sky. The concept of dining high up in the foggy mountains amidst zip-lines is so fresh they deserve a whole truckload of “Kudos!”-es from us & everyone who’s ever stopped by. Imagine stuffing your face with a nice hot meal after a glorious afternoon of rappelling, trekking, wall climbing, caving and zip-lining? Yeah, we thought so. Nom nom. (We might have a separate entry for this one soon so just keep an eye out for it!)
Upon arriving, we stared at the entrance sign with the corresponding fees written on it. Ah well… if you’ve got a nice place in your hands why not use it for profit right? P50/adult, P25/children & P250 day-rate for open air cottages (offer overnight cottages as well but we’re not sure how much they would cost you. A thousand maybe?) Honestly, I felt like I was ripped off because I should’ve paid half price. Jake is my great grand uncle… why won’t you believe me! (I kid. Jake, don’t drop a lizard in my shirt.)
Parking is no biggie as they have a free parking lot once they let you in through the gate. Be prepared for a game of jigsaw though as the attendant will cleverly help you maneuver your way in between rows of cars if you happen to get there later in the day & people have already piled in.
First thing on our mini-itinerary… find a toilet! It was so cold up there that no amount of bladder restraint could help keep down one’s urge to… “shake it like a Polaroid camera”.
There wasn’t any fog buildup yet as that was the peak of noon. The sun was peeking out of the clouds but one could hardly feel it from nippiness up there. I once heard about locals freaking out some years ago when they claimed that snow fell in Balamban. Snow? *insert ‘laugh at loud’ here*.
As we crossed the lengthy hanging bridge, I reminded Jake to lay off the monkey business for awhile as it was a good 2-story (house) drop to the bottom & I was still too young to fly. Yeah, like he listened to that.
Jake: Swing, swing, swing, swing.
Belle: I’m getting cross-eyed from all the colors on the footboards. If I tip over, you can’t have my laptop.
A couple of old ladies trying to get across finally gave us the stink eye.
When we got to the other side, we had to choose which direction to head to next as the place was pretty huge. Noticing a couple of benches & cottages scattered all around the place (“tambayan”), we decided we didn’t want to sit down, have a bottle of vodka to warm us up & stare at whatever.
We climbed a stone staircase heading to the top for a full panoramic view of the resort. Families were enjoying picnics by the cheerful-looking cottages with a fine spread of lechon manok, pancit, puso, etc. Caged monkeys & pet dogs in their nakedness seemed to embrace the crisp cold air as much too.
For those who want to warm their tummies, they’ve got a Canteen/Restaurant with a great scenic location up on the highest peak of the place. It closes on Saturdays though.
Jake & I found an improvised viewing deck just a step below. We went all trigger-happy while taking care not to fall off from laughing too much because of weird Sound of Music-like tracks blasting from their heavy duty speakers. Man, was that hilarious. We guessed they were trying to enhance the solemnity of the place by putting on some CDs which could have belonged to soundtracks for Nun movies. It was a refuge… a sanctuary… a retreat from the city after all.
It was refreshing up there! The fresh air hinted with the scent of pine trees (nothing like cardboard cut-out air freshener in cabs); sporadic light drizzle which caught in your eyelashes; misty distant rows of far away hills & mountains; & the epic greenery of Mother Earth in general. Beautiful.
All of a sudden, rains started coming tipped off by the gloomy clouds above. We took cover in the canteen & watched the fog engulf the entire mountainside slowly. It was so thick, just a little bit more & you could make a nice coat out of it. The rains passed real quickly but the fog hovered for just a little while longer. We didn’t mind it at all. It was like looking out into a Scottish countryside… all it needed was a flock of sheep. (Bucketlist alert!)
When the fog cleared & it was sunny once again, we walked down the stone steps to explore the place even more. The cottages for overnight use were scattered far apart down the mountain as we made our way around them not noticing just how far down we’ve already gone.
The grass suddenly grew unruly & the pathway on slabs of stone which began to disappear slowly led to a clearing just by a cliff side.
We swear we could hear something that resembled a waterfall down below.
We didn’t risk continuing down the trail as it didn’t look like it was intended for resort visitors anymore. But then again, we wouldn’t know.
A couple of pictures later we headed back up & ventured out to their lonely “recreational” area. Jake & I weren’t really big fans of the facilities. Although they had a number to offer (potentially) such as a zip-line, a waterslide & pool, a basketball court— they looked like they were all under renovation.
Just some concerns:
- The zip-line charged P50/person for a really3x short ride. It looked rusty too.
- The waterslide, if it was indeed a waterslide & not some “old-school package transporter thingy”, was desert-dry. The pool at the bottom is kind of small… (Jake: Is that a Jacuzzi?) Imagine if you did manage to slide through on high velocity… would it catch you? Or would you flip over to the other side of the mountain?
- Basketball rings had no… ehem… rings.
Despite all that, the place still sent our eyes gleaming & our mouths wide with smiles. Hopefully in your future visits there they would have already fixed up these things. We were the only people down there at that time so I guess the old cliché applies: The world is our playground.
Belle: Look… at least the swings are working!
Jake: Happy, happy day!
Oh yes. A significant amount of time was spent reliving kindergarten with the wind in our hair & the brush of cold on our cheeks as we propelled high into the air in that rickety swing set.
As soon as we noticed the sun setting, we took one last look at the mountain resort & headed back to the city to avoid having to drive in the dark. The search for steamy corn on the cob smothered in salt & butter didn’t seem as triumphant as we’d hoped but at least we had a mighty entertaining day in a giant makeshift refrigerator! (And it didn’t even take a plane ride to Baguio.)
Traveling doesn’t mean going all out & crossing seas or scouring the globe. It could start in your own beautiful city. Stay glued! More articles coming up on WHERE THE?